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December 22, 2019

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Fragrant fame for Captain from the Crew

HOW does an independent artist go from writing songs in his bedroom in Nashville to having a famous song in China? Galen Crew hasn’t totally figured it out, but it happened to him and created a genuine emotional connection between the artist and the land.

Earlier this month, the American singer-songwriter and producer wrapped up his third tour in China, featuring seven cities including Shenzhen, Beijing, Chengdu and Hangzhou.

Before his gig kicked off in Shanghai, the multi-talented musician sat down with Shanghai Daily to share his latest masterpieces, his influences and his journey in music.

The singer-songwriter’s music is a blend of pop and alternative with some electronic and folky elements. His dreamy masterpieces feature “deep yet whimsical themes and seems to emanate from a different world,” notes Crew.

Dubbed the “Prince of Fairy Tales” by Chinese audiences, the 29-year-old sees himself as a storyteller, crafting adventures in various art forms and citing fantasy authors such as Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and Herman Hesse.

Imagine if the mysterious Grimm Brothers fairy-tale collections were somehow transformed into modern pop songs — and you’ll start to get idea of the imagery, depth and layers within Crew’s music.

A former guitarist and songwriter in several bands, Crew stepped out as a vocalist at the age of 19.

In collaboration with British songwriter Roger Cook, he has composed more than 100 songs.

One of them — “Sleepyhead” — an open-ended medieval story of a sleeping beauty of a royal line and an overseas stranger who’s asking for the maiden’s hand, went viral in China, attracting millions of streams and more than 50,000 comments from fans on NetEase Music, a major streaming service platform in China.

Followed the trend with sold-out shows in China in 2016, Crew finds himself more familiar with the land he fell in love with.

“It’s my third time to cities like Shanghai and Beijing. When I first arrived back in China, I almost felt like I was coming home again, like a second home,” he told Shanghai Daily.

At his core, Crew intends to convey peace, hope, life and goodness in his music and tries to have a positive effect on people’s lives.

With music as his tool to encourage people and express emotions, the self-taught artist who is starting out pretty early on his musical path, brought his sweet, lively, soothing yet sophisticated tracks from albums including “Better Than A Fairy Tale,” “Acoustic Dreams” and his latest four concept albums “Apologue (Vol. 1-4)” to an audience at a packed livehouse on a bitter winter’s night.

Crew broke the rules and carried out his creative experiments on his newly released album “Apologue.” Unlike a traditional album, he released smaller groups of songs in volumes just like the chapters of a book or episodes of a TV series.

“I look at it as a kind of one big story where the listeners go through a journey from volume one to volume four and I want them to feel like they’re reading a book except that they’re listening to songs,” he said.

In contrast to his upbeat, cheery and affectionate works, “Apologue: Volume 3” has a slightly darker tone, and each of the songs carry themes of hurt and difficulties in human relationships and the search for healing.

“My goal for this chapter was to convey the reality of certain struggles that I have experienced in my own life and the raw way it felt when I was in the middle of those challenges,” Crew explained. “I hope listeners find the emotional journey of the songs to be relatable.”

Apart from legends, myths and big names like the Beatles, Coldplay and John Mayer, great tunes come from Crew out of his personal experience and his creative mind.

“What I carry is worth more than my life. I want you to hear the message I’ve got,” sings Crew in his song “Messenger.” His predominant works demonstrate information and values related to self-worth, self-introspection, exploration, fantasy and dreams.

Feeling melancholic that a lot of girls have low self-esteem, Crew created “Princess” to empower his female listeners.

“It makes me sad when some girls, not matter how young or old they feel, they don’t have a lot of self-worth, they don’t think highly of themselves. So I wanted to write a song that said ‘you’re valuable, you’re special and precious and you’re one of a kind’.”

Crew describes his experiences in China as simultaneously surreal and inspiring. There is the part of this Christian with religious convictions that draws pure joy and fulfilment knowing how his music makes a difference in people’s lives.

Wondering what effect is he having on people and whether it’s good or not, Crew wrote “Fragrance,” a pop track with a lively electronic melody featuring traditional Chinese instrument erhu, during his first tour in China. In November, he released his newest work — a simple love song “I Want You Close Forever” — exclusively in China first in response to the love his Chinese fans have shown.

“His music is soothing and beautiful,” said May Yao, a 17-year-old student who created the cover of the singer’s latest single. “Every time I feel stressed or exhausted cramming for tests, his voice always calms me down.”

“Galen’s music helps me through a lot,” said Shanghai-based Andy Jiang, a 21-year-old majoring in textile technology, excited to meet one of his favorite singers for the first time. “His musical style is really different and refreshing to listen to, and I’m really thankful to come across this talent.”

As their beloved artist is defined as successful in niche markets, the Crew — the name of his fandom, wishes a larger audience can enjoy the music of their Captain Galen.

“I don’t think of fame as a goal. My goal is not to be famous but to reach and impact people,” said Crew with a smile, “What I want is to hear people say that they are positively impacted by my music. And if that happens for more and more people, then I’ll be happy.”

While the passionate and kind Nashville-native will always have his voice and guitar as the common denominator in his music, he has started to incorporate some different instruments from other countries and worked on a song in Mandarin for his Chinese fans.

In the midst of his showcase in Shanghai, the versatile singer-songwriter took out his phone and snapped the precious moment with the audience before performing one fan-favorite “Fragrance.”

“Am I the fragrance of it (China)?” sang the Captain.

“You are the fragrance of it!” shouted the Crew.

“Do I remind you of it?”

“You do remind me of it!”


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